Bad news. The diagnosis of a life-threatening illness in a precious young loved one. It hits me hard. It takes my breath away. It throws me into a spiritual tailspin. The main impact is feeling like the God that I’ve trusted for years has wounded me deeply.
I know I need Him now more than ever, so I follow all my usual practices—worshiping, studying His Word, spending time in fellowship with other believers, praying, walking in obedience to Him. But suddenly there’s this wall between us. I throw it up quickly and I build it out of solid materials. I don’t really want it there, but I can’t help feeling incapable of taking any steps to remove it.
Over time God patiently tears it down. At first, brick by brick. Through new songs in church that express exactly what I need to say and hear. Through deeper insights into His nature and character. Then, suddenly, after three long years, as I’m struggling spiritually with yet another undeserved catastrophe in the same young person’s life, through supernatural, peaceful acceptance that far transcends all my understanding (Philippians 4:7).
This peace comes out of nowhere and it envelops me on a level that I’ve never experienced before. It’s all God’s doing. It’s not denial or psyching myself up in an effort to ease the pain. The pain is still there, but so is the peace. And it lasts. Day after day after day.
I’m marveling over this unexplainable, unexpected blessing a few weeks later. Praying, thanking God, praising Him for knocking the wall down flat. Then the words enter my mind uninvited, unintended, “Help me to forgive You.”
How could I ever think such a thing? (Is it too late to take it back, God? Can we just pretend You didn’t hear that?)
Me forgive God? He who is without sin, without the capability of ever doing evil? He who is all good, all wise, all the time? He who is love (1 John 4:8 and 16)? He who sacrificed so much to save us from those filthy, stinking, rotten sins that make our lives so miserable? Me forgive Him? How backward is that?
And yet that’s how it feels. Like the pain runs so deep that of course He must have done something terrible to me, something wrong, something evil, something that I have a right to either forgive or continue to hold against Him. The god I want to worship wouldn’t do this to me.
It’s not like I’ve been shaking my fist at God these last three years. I know Him well enough to firmly believe that in all things He works for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). He has touched my heart in some incredible ways since my rebirth. But the sense of being hurt by Someone that I’ve dedicated my life to has permeated my relationship with Him. He’s now bringing me face to face with the fact that I’m still harboring resentment against Him. The bizarre idea that I need to forgive Him.
A post on my favorite website, The Babylon Bee (featuring Christian satire), describes how, after reading some self-help psychology, God realizes that, for His own good, He should set more boundaries and cut ties with toxic influences, which of course means destroying the entire world.
My response the first time I read it was the recognition that I need to love people with the love of God. I need to stop considering anyone toxic and unworthy of my love and friendship. I’m too quick to judge and too quick to walk away. That’s not what God desires from His people. He sets the standards and provides the example for me to follow.
But in the midst of this gracious blessing of peace and contentment, glancing again at that headline reminds me of just how holy and perfect and pure God is. When I’d discovered the article, under the surface a little voice in my mind was arguing with the statement that human beings continually choose to rebel against Him. Surely that doesn’t include us Christians. Surely we’re not so bad that we could be considered toxic. Would He really have to destroy the whole world, or only those who refuse to believe in Him?
Now, with this horrifying thought that I hold God in such low esteem that the restoration of our relationship actually requires my forgiving Him, I know that I am one of those toxic people. Ouch.
The article reminds me that in my fallen, sinful condition, God’s love for me is pure grace, totally undeserved. That’s hard to believe in a culture that constantly bombards me with the message of my great worth. I’ve been a dedicated, growing Christian for all these years. Surely I’ve earned His respect and love.
But no. Here I am, unable, even at my best, to offer Him anything but a toxic relationship. And here God is, not destroying me as in the Bee article, not cutting me off anytime I fail, but loving me, blessing me, walking with me, knocking down the wall between us. Forgiving me.